The continuing adventures of smart grids

In last month’s bandwidth, we discussed ‘smart grids’ and the fact that driving adoption requires awareness and a persuasive message.  SNG’s recent studies show that the number of business owners and homeowners even aware of a smart grid falls under 5% of the population.  This is a public relations and marketing problem for utilities and those promoting smart grids.

Further results (as part of an e-Solutions Benchmarking study conducted by SNG) reveal that consumers, for the most part, are not willing to use the Internet to manage energy consumption in their homes and businesses.  This is in spite of the fact that engaging this technology would bring financial and environmental gains (e.g. energy independence, global warming and emergency resilience issues – see Wikipedia on smartgrids).

It points to just how big the job ahead is for providers of energy to convince consumers of the value of smart grid technology.  Deployment needs to be embraced and not mandated (see last month’s article on how to drive adoption among different audiences).

Beyond willingness to allow the local utility control of HVAC and major appliances in the home and business (of which less than 5% of consumers and small business are open to) – there is a major challenge to educate the public. “Demand Control,” “Demand Response,” and “Time-of-Use” rate structures currently being trialed are all concepts that need to be explained with something more compelling than a slip of paper stuck in a monthly bill.

Demand control, the ability to reduce energy consumption during peak periods, is one way utilities can avoid construction of new generating facilities, relying instead on the eventual development of renewable sources.  For instance, employing demand control on a smart grid could eliminate $3.5 billion on a new energy plant.

With new smart meters installed, utilities have the ability to increase or decrease the per-unit energy cost dependent upon available supply and demand.

The problem – and biggest challenge of smart grids – is that they are dependent on electric firms serving as center of control and allocating energy needs between those who are served first, who can be dialed back, and – worst case – who needs to be temporarily shut down.

So we’re back to how to drive adoption of smart meters… the carrot or the stick? Smart meters being installed worldwide have the ability to send messages to individual Home Energy Management Systems, indicating rising demand and/or rising energy costs which will in turn causes consumers to modify behavior to better align with available power supply.  (i.e. Raising or lowering a thermostat, delaying washing/drying dishes and laundry, etc. until the price subsides).

Broadband connectivity is the backbone of the smart grid because it enables us to manage our energy consumption from anywhere. The key for every home and business worldwide is to understand what is now possible and to take control of energy consumption.  Whether the connection is fiber, cellular, WiFi, WiMAX or satellite, communities with universal access offer residents and businesses an opportunity to the energy consumed from anywhere in the world with the potential for real bottom-line savings.While local electric utilities go through the process of investigating smart grid investments and how end-users will be connected to the smart grid, SNG is helping communities adopt this critical e-solution. 

Through our e-Solutions Benchmarking (eSB) studies, smart grids are one of the e-solutions SNG investigates to understand who is using broadband most effectively today so we can learn from them, and who is using it the least so we can raise their awareness and incentivize them.

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